Tense Theory - NT Resources

Introduction. Verbal aspect of the Greek of the NT has received considerable attention in the last dozen years. Three major studies in particular have caught the ...
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Verbal Aspect in Recent Debate: Objections to Porter’s Non-Temporal View of the Verb* Rodney J. Decker, Th.D. Associate Professor of NT Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA 18411 A Paper Presented at Evangelical Theological Society Eastern Region Annual Meeting, 3/30/01 Philadelphia Biblical University, Langhorne, PA

Introduction Verbal aspect of the Greek of the NT has received considerable attention in the last dozen years. Three major studies in particular have caught the attention of New Testament scholars. This work, done by K. L. McKay, Buist M. Fanning, and Stanley E. Porter, asserts that verbal aspect has been misunderstood and inadequately appreciated in previous work, often being confused with Aktionsart.1 Although seemingly innovative (and to some, unorthodox), the key proposals build on the foundation of twentieth-century linguistics across a wide range of languages. These ideas are not idiosyncratic if judged by contemporary linguistic standards and theory, though they often appear such to biblical scholars unacquainted with work outside their field.2 The implications of these theoretical conceptions of grammar are far-reaching, particularly for exegesis of the New Testament text.3

* This paper is an adaptation of one section of my recently published Temporal Deixis of the Greek Verb in the

Gospel of Mark with Reference to Verbal Aspect, Studies in Biblical Greek, v. 10, ed. D. A. Carson (New York/Bern: Peter Lang, 2001), 38–49 [hereafter TDM]. A web page devoted to the topic (& the book) is available at: . 1 K. McKay, A New Syntax of the Verb in New Testament Greek: An Aspectual Approach, SBG, vol. 5, B. Fanning, Verbal Aspect in New Testament Greek, OTM [hereafter FVA]; and S. Porter, Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament, with Reference to Tense and Mood, SBG, vol. 1 [hereafter PVA]. McKay’s work extends back to the mid-1960s, but it did not receive adequate attention until Porter and Fanning brought the issue to the attention of NT scholarship. For an introductory survey of the issues involved in aspect theory, see D. Carson, “An Introduction to the Porter/Fanning Debate,” in Biblical Greek Language and Linguistics [hereafter BGLL], ed. S. Porter and D. Carson, JSNTSup, vol. 80 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 18–25; see also TDM, 5–28. For an extensive summary and review of both Fanning’s and Porter’s volumes, see F. Weißengruber, “Zum Verbalaspekt im Griechischen des Neuen Testaments,” Studiem zum Neuen Testament and Seiner Umwelt 16 (1991): 169–77. 2 A. Robertson anticipated such developments in his comment that “it is not possible then to write the final grammar of Greek either ancient or modern” (A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, 32 [hereafter ATR]). He explains that this is because we are continually learning more about ancient Greek. Linguistic study contemporary with and subsequent to Robertson has continued to expand such knowledge. Aspect theory, with which this study is concerned, is one part of that expansion. As S. Porter has observed, “most ancient languages are greatly understudied, since the results of ‘modern’ linguistic study have not yet been applied to them. It is here that much resistance has been found to appropriating the best insights of recent linguistics. Just because the languages are called ancient does not mean that the methods for studying them must be ancient also” (Studies in the Greek New Testament, SBG, vol. 6 [New York: Peter Lang, 1996], 18). 3 For summaries of some of this work and its implications, see: P. Cotterell and M. Turner, Linguistics and Biblical

Interpretation (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1989); M. Turner, “Modern Linguistics and the New Testament,” in Hearing the New Testament, ed. J. Green, 146–74 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995); E. Nida, “Implications of Contemporary Linguistics for Biblical Scholarship,” Journal of Biblical Literature 91 (1972): 73–89; S. Porter, “Greek Language and Linguistics,” Expository Times 103 (1991–92): 202–8; and